MLK: ‘What Kind of Extremists Will We Be?’

“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King wrote these words in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on April 16, 1963. Now, nearly 57 years later, his words seem prophetic. 

King’s letter was in response to eight white Alabama clergy members who wrote a letter asking the “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham (a thinly veiled reference to King) to stop directing “some of our Negro citizens” in the “unwise and untimely” demonstrations for integration. They preferred to let the issue of racial segregation play out in the courts and to patiently wait for the social changes to happen over time. They said the outsiders’ resistance to racism, “however peaceful those actions may be,” were “extreme measures” not justified in Birmingham.

“I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction in being considered an extremist,” King wrote. “Was not Jesus an extremist in love? . . . Was not Amos an extremist for justice? . . . Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? . . . So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?” 

This is not purely a racial issue, although that was the context of King’s letter. It is, as King pointed out, a church leadership issue. King said that with notable exceptions, he had become disappointed with the church he loved. 

The source of King’s disappointment was that its leaders “have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” Martin Luther King’s call in 1963 to restore the self-sacrificial spirit of the New Testament church is our call today. 

Martin Luther King’s call in 1963 to restore the self-sacrificial spirit of the New Testament church is our call today.  Click To Tweet

I am convicted by Martin Luther King’s words: 

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Do these words describe the contemporary Christian church? Do they describe your church? Are we extremists for love, justice, and the gospel? I echo King: “I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.” 

– Adapted from Letter from the Editor, by Michael C. Mack, Christian Standard magazine, February 2018.

Leadership TIPS of the Week: February 12-16, 2018

Miss any of our Leadership TIPS from this past week that we posted on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn? Don’t worry. Here they are. Please share them with your friends!

Read all our Leadership TIPS here.

A Great Small Group Is … (It may not be what you think)

Today I want to show you a way of small group life that is best of all.

A great small group is patient and kind with one another.

The members of a great small group are not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.

In a great small group, people do not demand their own way.They seek God’s way. They look not to their own interests but the interests of others.

People in a great small group are not irritable with one another, and they keeps no records of being wronged.They confess their sins to each other, pray for each other, and forgive one another.

A great small group does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

A great small group ... rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Click To Tweet

A great small group never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

A great small group is known more by how they love one another and the world around them than what they study, who leads the group, where and when they meet, how many people are in the group, or even what the group has accomplished.

A good small group is the body of Christ where each person is an important part of it, where each person uses the spiritual gifts they have to carry out God’s mission.

But a great small group is not about the group members or even their gifts. A great group overflows what God has poured into them.

And God is love.

A great small group overflows what God has poured into them. And God is love. Click To Tweet

If a small group is known for the depth of their discussions but don’t love other people, they are just making a lot of noise.

If they are known for their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, their pure and sound doctrine, and a mountain-moving faith, but don’t love others, they might as well not even meet.

If a small group is known for their sacrificial giving, serving of others in need, and their evangelistic zeal, but they do all this without truly loving others, they miss the point.

If a SG is known for deep discussions but don't love others, they're just making noise. Click To Tweet

A good small group is faithful, has hope, and loves.

And the GREATEST of these is love.


Thanks to the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit for inspiration! 1 Corinthians 13.

On a scale of 1-100, how is your group doing at love? Why? Scroll down and comment!

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week for June 13-17, 2016

Here are last week’s Small Group Leader TIPS as Tweeted, posted on our Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.


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Monday, 6/13: Pray as a grp this week for everyone affected by the #OrlandoShooting. #Love

Tuesday, 6/14: This week make it a point to mourn with those who mourn (Ro. 12:15). #Love #Compassion

Wednesday, 6/15: Ask each grp mbr to write why your group exists. Then discuss and use to cast a biblical vision. #mission

Thursday, 6/16: Find creative ways to get the kids involved in your next mtg #faith #discipleship

Friday, 6/17: Find creative ways to honor fathers this week. #Love #dads #respect

Go ahead: Copy and paste these to tweet or post them to your followers!

Read All Small Group Leadership TIPS here!

The Day of Overflowing Compassion

Today is a Day of Overflowing Compassion. To fully understand what happened on this day, it helps to see Jesus’ attitudes, actions, and words before he was put on trial and went to the cross. Once, as he was walking through some towns with his followers, the Bible says that when he saw the crowds, Jesus had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-38).

As I reflect on what Jesus did on what we call Good Friday, I feel his compassion for me and for all those who are harassed and helpless in this life. At one time, I too was harassed by this life and felt helpless to do anything about it. I was trying to make it on my own, by my own efforts, under my own puny power. In 1988, with the help of my niece, Julie, and several other people like Thomas, I found the Good Shepherd, or rather, he found me. He drew me to himself.

At first, I was a skeptical seeker. For years I had investigated matters of faith in general and the accounts of Jesus and the Cross particularly. After lots of reading, discussing, and thinking, I could no longer deny, refute, or argue the facts of what happened that Day or especially how it transformed the lives of so many harassed and helpless people, including Jesus’ closest followers, afterward. Something unique and powerful happened that Day on Calvary and on the following Sunday morning.

In John 10, Jesus compared himself to a shepherd, a role rich in Biblical meaning. “I am the good shepherd,” he said, but what he said next is powerful: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11). That, my friend, is compassion, sacrificial love, God’s plan for connecting us back into a restored relationship with him. It wasn’t fair: the innocent paying the ultimate price for the guilty. Not fair, but incredibly compassionate.

In his compassionate love for people (see John 3:16), the Shepherd laid down his life for harassed and helpless people like you and me. It was the only way to make things right. He is the only way to a restored relationship with God.

Helpless is what I once was, but not today; today I have a Helper, a Savior, a Compassionate Shepherd who guides me through the circumstances of this life.

This is what it means to follow Jesus. On this Good Friday, I look back at what he has already done for me when he laid down his life for me and on Easter Sunday took it back up again (see John 10:17-18). But I also look forward to a Day that is coming, described toward the end of the Bible: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:17). What compassion!


Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week: March 14-18, 2016

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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This week’s Small Group Leader TIPS focus on Rock ‘n Roll Wisdom for small groups.

Monday, 3/14: #1 on most vital chart: “Shower the people you love with love…” Thx @JamesTaylor_com #rocknrollwisdom

Tuesday, 3/15: “Teach your children well” (1John2) @CSNYofficial Thx to Brian A Smith. #rocknrollwisdom #modelthelove

Wednesday, 3/16: “Don’t Stop Believin'” in God & in group members! #rocknrollwisdom @JourneyOfficial Thx Steve Hendricks

Thursday, 3/17: “Let ’em in!” Invite & welcome new ppl into your group. #rocknrollwisdom @PaulMcCartney #beopen #love

Friday, 3/18:  Make your love for lost ppl “URGENT.” #rocknrollwisdom @ForeignerMusic #GreatCommission #itsurgent

All Small Group Leadership TIPS

Follow Mike and Small Group Leadership on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks by clicking on the icons in the “Connect with Mike” box in the right column.

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the Week

Small Group Leadership TIPS of the past week as Tweeted, posted on the Small Group Leadership Facebook page, and posted on LinkedIn.

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Monday, 11/9: Don’t be selfie-obsessed. Resurrect compassion in your group. See vid by @craiggroeschel: 

Tuesday, 11/10: Focus your study on the Gospel-the death & resurrection of Jesus. It’s the #powertochangelives

Wednesday, 11/11: Ask group members where they see themselves spiritually and in other areas of life in 5 yrs. #2020vision

Thursday, 11/12: How you love others in the group is WAY more important than how you facilitate your study.

Friday, 11/13: Want to make a real impact on lives of grp mbrs? Focus an entire meeting on encouraging one another.


Follow Mike and Small Group Leadership on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks by clicking on the icons in the “Connect with Mike” box in the right column.

What Every Small Group Leader Needs from their Small Group Pastor

I’ve made it a regular, ongoing practice in my ministry to ask the leaders under my care, “What do you need? How can we help you most in your ministry?” If I were to sum up their typical response in one line, it would sound something like an old Carpenter’s song:

“What a leader needs now … is love, sweet love.”
No matter how much I do, how many classes I teach, how many awards I give, what structure I have in place, they need love more than anything else from me. “It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of!”
Small group ministry is by nature a relational ministry. So I believe the support system / structure / leadership community – whatever you want to call it – ought to be intensely relational in nature as well.
I have the privilege of consulting with church leaders and coaching small group champions in churches. I also often lead training seminars in churches all over the U.S. and other countries as well. It’s fascinating for me to be the outsider looking in at how a ministry and leadership development and support are organized.
Back when I was just starting to get involved in small group ministry 25 years ago, many church-growth gurus who had studied the phenomenal growth of churches in America and other countries were writing books and conducting seminars to help churches build organizational systems and strategies to bring about that kind of growth through groups here in the United States. Churches, searching for some way to jumpstart growth and get their hands around the concept of small groups, bought the books and seminars and bought into the principles whole hog.
Here’s what I believe happened over time: small groups became another program in many local churches. We’ve taken a very simple, natural, relational concept, and we’ve institutionalized it. Perhaps we need to deinstitutionalize small groups and, at the same time, esteem and value natural, relational, creative ministry that can happen when we give people the freedom and support to do it.
So let’s get back to my original question: What do leaders really need?
First, they need freedom to do the ministry that God puts on their hearts. One of the jobs of a small group pastor is to create an environment where people sense that they have that kind of freedom. Freedom to be creative. Freedom to experiment. Freedom to fail. For this to happen in the church, you have to release control. Surrender the need to manage everything that happens. Ephesians 4 tells us that Christ is the Head of the Body, not you or me (v. 15). Your responsibility is to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (v. 12, NLT).
Second, people need equipping to carry out their ministries successfully (as we see in Ephesians 4). God provides them with the passion and the calling to do his work. He has called leaders of leaders to train them to carry it out.
Third, they need relationships in which to serve. They need a community that encourages them, validates them, keeps them accountable, keeps them going when things are tough. I played with the coaching structure at our church until I developed one that worked to provide those things for our leaders. The typical 5×5 structure wasn’t working, so I found some things that did. It was as simple as as thinking about different levels and types of leaders and then asking what type of support they needed from us. Rather than trying to fit your leaders into your coaching and support system, fit your system to your leaders. 
What do leaders really need? I developed a simple acrostic to help us remember what is really important: SERVE . . . which I’ll share in my next post.


My Valentine’s Message for Women Only

This post is written to women. (If you are a man, you can stop reading now.) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, so I want to share what’s on my heart today with all the women God has so graciously put in my world.

I’m writing this with the #1 woman in my life, Heidi Mack, in mind, of course. And also, my daughters, Sarah Mack and Anna Mack, and I hope they have already received this message from me, but I am also sending this to every woman God has put in my life over the years….

If God gave you a candy heart today, what words would it bear? 

If God gave you a Valentine’s Day card, what would it say? 

If God gave you roses today, what would he jot down on the note to you? 

Go ahead, imagine each of these messages to you from your Bridegroom – words just for you as his treasured beloved. Or, if it works better for you, imagine the words from your Father, the One who loves you more than any other, the King who is head over heals for his precious princess.

Just imagine his words sent to you today.

I love you more than you can imagine! I lay down my life for you.
I am yours and you are mine!
You are my partner in the work and ministry of reconciling the world back to me.
I love you and am here to daily bear your burdens. Bring them to me.
You can find rest and peace in me. Trust in me. Pour out your heart to me. I am your refuge.
My love and faithfulness for you reaches to the skies!
I am your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
My love for you is unfailing!

(Men, if you are still reading, don’t forget that these are all examples for how we should be loving the women in our lives!) 

I believe God would tell you today something such as this:

My love for you, my darling, is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged (that’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?). It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the TRUTH wins out. My love for you never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. My love for you never, that’s right never, fails.

One more thing. You are beautiful. The Creator of the Universe took his time fashioning you and he purposely created you with and for beauty. My wish for you today is for you to see yourself only as God sees you, to know you are accepted by him without cosmetics or makeovers. When he looks at you he delights in you because he created beauty in you; you are his masterpiece.

And he put those affections for you on your heart. 

When Cupid’s Arrows Bring Pain

Today I am blessed to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my beautiful bride and love of my life, Heidi. Valentine’s Day 2012 was not so happy. I won’t go into details in this public place–not yet anyway–but many of our close friends and family know the past several years have been a struggle for us.

I know we’re not alone. Marriage is a gift from God and, like many gifts, it comes with human heartaches and yes, even suffering. Cupid’s arrows actually do pierce our hearts, bringing both romance and pain. There’s one very good reason for this, of course. Marriage, as good and holy and fulfilling and intimate as it can be, is a partnership between two imperfect people. Wait … imperfect does not feel strong enough here. Let’s try broken, severely messed up, fatally flawed. 

I agree with John and Stasi Eldredge, who say that marriage is a divine conspiracy. God lures two very different people together–both with different backgrounds and ways of relating and approaches to life. “Our mutual brokenness is drawn together like a match and gunpowder.”* God does this so that he can transform us … and, as the Eldredges say, to get us to face our styles of relating and repent of them. Others have said the same thing: marriage is not meant so much to make us happy as it is to make us holy.

A year ago, in the midst of so much uncertainty and pain and heartache, I began meditating every day on Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I had to ask God to help me understand what it meant to delight in him. At first I prayed this in reverse. I asked God to give me the desires of my heart: restoration of my relationship with my wife … and then, when I got what I wanted, I would delight in God’s provision. God in his patience showed me something far better. When I learned to delight in him regardless of the circumstances, he would give me my heart’s desire, because my desires would finally match up with his desires.

Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote these words in my journal:

I know, Lord, that you are in control. I once again surrender all this to you. I thank you with all my heart and I will be filled with joy because of you. Even in extremely difficult life circumstances, I can have joy in you and because of you. I delight in you! And that does not depend on my circumstances or situation. Today I will sing praises to your name, O Most High!

Today, you may be celebrating Valentine’s Day alone, or perhaps you have a sense of uncertainty or you are in a state of pain and heartache. I don’t want to minimize or moralize your pain today with some sugary sweet Valentine’s Day platitudes. Yes, I am indeed blessed that my marriage has been resurrected. We are working on our relationship every day, reconciling with God’s grace, and being restored. We struggle but we do not struggle alone. Yet I realize that not all situations work out as ours has. I have many good friends who are still feeling the pain of loneliness, the lament of “Why is this happening?” the yearning for renewed hope.

My prayer for anyone who is hurting this Valentine’s Day is that you will find your hope … not primarily in a mate or a job or anything else that is perishable and undependable and broken. My desire for you, and me, and Heidi is to find our joy in a God who never leaves or forsakes us–to delight in him and allow his desires to overwhelm our own desires.

* from Love & War, by John and Stasi Eldredge (Doubleday Religion, 2009).